The Randy Carlyle Effect: Anaheim Ducks Stumbling at 5-on-5 Under Former Toronto Maple Leafs Coach
The NHL’s coaching merry-go-round made its first stop of the season over the weekend, snatching up Gerard Gallant in North Carolina following a post-game dismissal from the Florida Panthers’ brass.
The carousel will inevitably claim another man’s job soon. The pro coaching business is volatile and, frankly, a little weird.
Randy Carlyle, head coach of the Ducks for a second time, is living proof. Anaheim general manager Bob Murray, the guy who let Carlyle go in Nov. 2011, welcomed the 60-year-old back into the fold this summer. Now — 22 games in and five years after his firing — the club boasts a 10-8-4 record.
Re-hiring a fired coach was not an unprecedented move by Murray. It was strange, though, considering the GM had shipped out a progressive mind (Bruce Boudreau) to create room for someone labeled old-school at last check (Carlyle).
“He was very traditional and a bit old-school, for sure,” said Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri, whom Carlyle coached in Toronto for parts of four seasons. “He liked the teaching in practice and, systematically, tried to be very fundamental.”
As of Tuesday, the Ducks are in a playoff spot. Carlyle 2.0 is, at the very least, a partial success out of the gate if you look at the standings and nowhere else.
We can try to grasp Carlyle’s true impact by comparing his underlying numbers to those of his predecessor. Let’s examine the Ducks’ 5-on-5 play, special teams and player usage under Boudreau last year and Carlyle this year.
Despite little roster turnover, the 2016-17 Ducks have taken a giant step back at even-strength through a quarter of the season.
Boudreau’s squad played an all-around high-event game at 5-on-5 (many shot attempts for and many shot attempts against), finishing behind only the puck-possession powerhouse L.A. Kings in score- and venue-adjusted shot attempts percentage.
However, they had trouble both scoring goals (28th in shooting percentage) and preventing goals (19th in save percentage). This led to a subpar goals-for percentage (GF%) of 49.3.
Carlyle’s squad is struggling to generate offence so far, averaging just 51.9 shot attempts per 60 5-on-5 minutes (26th in NHL) and scoring on 7% of their shots on goal. They are doing an alright job quieting the opposition’s attack (54.3 attempts against/60), but are probably leaning on goaltending too much (.930 SV%). This, crazily enough, has led to another 49.3 GF%.
The Ducks have managed to keep its collective head above water in the early going, but constantly chasing the run of play — Anaheim is the 20th-ranked possession team, a staggering drop year-over-year — tends to catch up to teams down the road.
For the second year in a row, Anaheim leads the NHL in penalty minutes per game. The usual suspects (defencemen Josh Manson, Clayton Stoner and Kevin Bieksa) apparently do not care who is barking orders.
Boudreau’s troops did a phenomenal job minimizing the impact of these penalty takers in ’15-’16, ranking first in the league with an 87.2% kill rate.
This season’s kill has taken a few steps back to 82% (18th in the league). A pair of key players — early-season holdout Hampus Lindholm and injured Simon Despres — have not been at Carlyle’s disposal for much of the year, so the PK setback deserves a mulligan.
With the roles reversed and the Ducks holding the advantage, Carlyle is placing a major emphasis on his top guns. Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Ryan Kesler, Cam Fowler and Sami Vatanen are all averaging north of three PP minutes a night as the go-to unit.
This strategy has been uber-effective. Anaheim, the best PP team last season, owns the sixth-best PP conversion rate right now. Not too shabby.
Do teams around the NHL begin to binge-watch video of the top unit to game plan against it and mitigate the onslaught of goals? Maybe. Maybe not.
James van Riemsdyk, another Leaf forward, remembers life under Carlyle well. Mainly because the bench boss used him often.
“He wanted the top guys to lead the way,” van Riemsdyk said. “He put a lot of the onus on them to carry the load of the team, as it should be.”
Compared to Boudreau, yes, Carlyle likes to bestow heaps of ice time upon his favourite players. Eight of this season’s 10 highest minute loggers on the roster are receiving a year-over-year increase.
Overall, five Ducks are playing 20 or more minutes a night (plus Getzlaf, who’s at 19:59), versus four in ’15-’16. Fowler, the ice-time leader for both squads, is skating an extra minute per game, while Kesler’s TOI has jumped nearly two full minutes.
A constant point of criticism for Toronto Carlyle was his loyalty to crash-and-bang forwards, a la David Clarkson and Colton Orr.
While Anaheim still dresses a few gritty players up front, Carlyle is not sending them over the boards frequently. Chris Wagner, Ryan Garbutt and Jared Boll (combined six points in 60 games) have been limited to 10:15 or less per contest.
We haven’t really created our identity yet. Consistency, in everybody’s mind, is going to be a challenge well beyond the 20-game mark
The lone bone to pick in regards to player usage is Bieksa, whose game has sunk to an almost unwatchable level. The 35-year-old with an outdated skill set is getting quality minutes (20:29) for some reason.
Perhaps minimizing Bieksa’s TOI is among the potential moves Carlyle makes as the club cobbles together an “identity”?
“I think we’re a hockey club that is still trying to find its way,” Carlyle told reporters last week. “We haven’t really created our identity yet. Consistency, in everybody’s mind, is going to be a challenge well beyond the 20-game mark.”
It’s late November, so only one thing is indisputable: the NHL season is young. The underlying numbers, while surely useful now, aren’t fully ripe. Another month or two of hockey should round out the data.
That being said, the early returns are not kind to Carlyle. The Ducks sport a decent record, but whether that moderate level of success can be maintained is to be determined.
A once-dominant puck-possession team is below-average with Carlyle at the controls. The roster didn’t change in any dramatic way, which suggests Carlyle’s influence is getting in the way of a formidable attack.
Carlyle, for what it’s worth, seems to have tempered his love-in for bruisers by toning down their roles. That’s a definite plus.
As for special teams, the Ducks should be fine. The personnel is elite. Whatever Carlyle is doing strategically and deployment-wise probably isn’t moving the needle in either direction.
All in all, Carlyle 2.0 feels a lot like Carlyle 1.0.
Up and Coming Sports Stars to Look Out for in 2020
Every year, a raft of exciting new players come onto the scene across all of the major US sports. With the MLS season getting underway and the NFL and MLB drafts not too far away, now is a great time to look at the young sports stars that could have a very bright future ahead of them, and the ones that are already proving they are destined for greatness.
Theo Bair (MLS)
This MLS season is looking like it could be one of the best yet, with David Beckham’s Inter Miami team adding some extra dazzle to the league. Whilst Beckham might be able to attract a lot of new players to his MLS team, there are a lot of young stars on their way through such as Theo Bair at Vancouver Whitecaps. Bair has already made an impact on the first team and after impressing at under-20 and under-23 level for the national team, he has made two appearances for the senior team, well before his 21st birthday. This year could see Bair make a real name for himself in the MLS.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (MLB)
Montreal-born Vladimir Guerrero Jr has one MLB season under his belt but it looks like the best is still yet to come from him at the Blue Jays. He was heavily backed to take the league by storm but he failed to live up to the hype that surrounded him. Without the pressure of being the top-ranked prospect, this season could see Guerrero play with some weight lifted off his shoulders. He has been working very hard on his fitness over the offseason, something that his manager Montoyo has been quick to comment upon.
“Baseball” (CC BY 2.0) by andrewmalone
Connor McDavid (NHL)
McDavid has already established him as a top hockey player but at 23, he has the potential to go on to do so much more. The player was born in Ontario and was the first overall draft pick, showing how much expectation was already on him at that stage but he has gone on to prove that he is one of the best players in the NHL. McDavid could go on to be one the NHL’s best-ever hockey players and this season could be the year that he shows the world, not just the NHL.
Chuba Hubbard (College Football)
The Oklahoma State Cowboys running back has been making the headlines for several years now. He continues to improve and grab more attention for his impressive stats and performances. He was close to being a sprinter and nearly made the Canadian Olympic team before switching over to football. He is passing up the 2020 NFL draft to play his senior season at Cowboys. He should give them a good chance of winning the College Football Championship, though they’re trailing at the seventh spot in the latest American football odds at +2400.00, with Clemson as the current betting favorites.
2020 will definitely be a very exciting time with some of these young stars looking to breakthrough in their respective sports and show the world what they are capable of.
Bob Baffert is back at the Kentucky Derby – and looking to break the Curse of Apollo
Bob Baffert is back at the Kentucky Derby with early favourite Justify after watching the race from his sofa in Southern California last year.
The Hall of Fame trainer’s ability to produce Derby contenders year after year is an enviable feat and why his absence a year ago stood out. It was just his second since 2009 and occurred because his lone candidate got hurt.
Baffert will saddle Justify and 30-to-1 shot Solomini in Saturday’s Derby.
Justify is one of the greenest colts Baffert has brought to Churchill Downs. He’s won all three of his starts by a combined 19 lengths. If Justify wins, he’d be the first to do so since Apollo in 1882 without racing as a two-year-old.
“The thing about the Kentucky Derby, you have to have the right horse. It just happens. You can’t force it,” Baffert said. “All of a sudden, you have good horses and you’re there. So I’ve been really fortunate to have some really good horses.”
Baffert’s four victories are tied for second-most in Derby history. He’s finished second three times, too, including in 2012 with Bodemeister, also the last time he had two starters in the same year.
Like Justify, Bodemeister didn’t race as a two-year-old. He set a blistering pace and led the Derby until the final 150 yards when I’ll Have Another overtook him to win by 1 1/2 lengths.
Magnum Moon, the 6-to-1 third choice, also is unbeaten and didn’t run as a two-year-old.
“It’s going to happen,” Baffert said, referring to the curse being broken. “Whether it happens this year or whatever, but it will happen because Bodemeister almost got away with it. But I don’t really worry about that.”
Baffert almost had a third starter this year until McKinzie developed a hind-end issue that knocked him off the Derby trail.
“When McKinzie got hurt, I wanted to throw up,” he said. “I really think McKinzie would probably be second choice here. We’d really have a 1-2 here.”
Justify cleared the biggest pre-Derby hurdle by drawing the No. 7 post. Jockey Mike Smith can use the colt’s early speed to position him well for the long run to the chaotic first turn. Solomini ended up in the No. 17 post; no horse has ever won from there.
Baffert turned 65 in January, making him eligible for Medicare and retirement at most other jobs. However, he entertains no such thoughts.
“I work hard at it. I just don’t give up,” the white-haired trainer said. “I’m constantly meeting people. They’re sending me horses. If you don’t have success, you’re not going to get those opportunities.”
After a successful run in the quarter horse ranks, Baffert switched to thoroughbreds. He started with one horse.
“After 25 years, I’m finally getting horses that I don’t have to buy,” he said. “The big guys are sending me horses.”
None was bigger than American Pharoah in 2015. The colt swept the Derby, Preakness and Belmont to become racing’s first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.
Baffert has compared Justify to American Pharoah, citing the colt’s imposing physical presence and big stride. Still, Justify has yet to encounter the kind of traffic the Derby’s 20-horse stampede creates and the talent as he’ll run against on Saturday.
“I’d rather have a really talented horse than one who’s seasoned and just on par with the rest of them,” Baffert said.
Early on, Baffert knew Justify had the goods.
“The first time I worked him at Santa Anita, I knew he was a really good horse,” he said. “The track was really deep that morning, and he went around there effortlessly. His first race, he ran incredibly and showed how special he was.”
That kind of intuition is what separates Baffert from his rivals, fellow Hall of Famer trainer D. Wayne Lukas said.
“Bob’s got a great feel for it,” he said.
Matthews ready to return to Maple Leafs lineup after missing a month
NASHVILLE — The hurtin’ tune that Auston Matthews has been singing for the past four weeks finally can be put in the remainder bin in Music City.
The Maple Leafs’ top centre on Wednesday declared himself set to return to the lineup after recovering from a right shoulder injury.
Wonderful timing, of course, considering the Leafs will take on the No. 1 club in the National Hockey League, the Nashville Predators, on Thursday night.
“In my mind, I think I’m ready to go and taking it as I’m getting ready to play (Thursday),” Matthews said after resuming his normal role, between William Nylander and Zach Hyman, during practice at Bridgestone Arena.
“It felt good, nice to get in all the reps and everything. (Wednesday) was a good step forward in that process, going through the line rushes.”
It seemed probable that the Leafs also will have defenceman Nikita Zaitsev, who missed the past five games as he recovered from an illness, against Nashville. Zaitsev was paired with Jake Gardiner, his regular partner, at practice.
For Matthews, it has been 10 games as a spectator with his latest injury, his third of the 2017-18 regular season after he missed four games in November with a back issue and then sat for six in December because of a concussion.
Thursday will mark four weeks since Matthews was hurt when he was sandwiched by the New York Islanders’ Cal Clutterbuck and Adam Pelech in a game at the Air Canada Centre.
A major bonus for Matthews in his recovery has been the fact he has been able to skate though much of his recuperation. That was not the case when he was out with his previous two injuries.
It’s worth noting that Matthews scored two goals versus the Montreal Canadiens upon returning on Nov. 18 from his back injury; in his first two games upon coming back from a concussion, he scored a goal in each.
Mike Babcock said a final decision on the participation of Matthews and Zaitsev against the Predators would be made on Thursday morning, but the Leafs coach was talking as though it would be a rubber stamp.
“This is going to be the best opportunity for (Matthews) because he has been able to skate and compete,” Babcock said. “The other times he was not able to do anything.
“To get him back … it’s still going to be going way faster than he has been practising, so there is going to be an adjustment period, but he’s a good player and he will figure it out.”
Defenceman Morgan Rielly didn’t think Matthews will take long to find his footing. Rielly missed six games in late January/early February with an arm injury, so knows what Matthews could be feeling.
“You’re nervous and you just want to get back into it,” Rielly said. “You play your first shift a bit hesitant, but after that it’s important you get back to yourself.
“It’s never easy, but Auston is one of those guys that I will imagine it won’t take long for him to get back into a rhythm.”
And there’s the trickle-down effect through the forward lines with Matthews in uniform.
“Guys are used to playing with certain players and when everyone is healthy, I think you get better chemistry throughout the entire lineup,” centre Nazem Kadri said. “Certain guys don’t have to play with different guys constantly and it’s just more of a set group, so I think it’s going to help us.”